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Sunday, January 24, 2010

Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll


1) Formed A Band; 2) My Little Brother; 3) Emily Kane; 4) Rusted Guns Of Milan; 5) Modern Art; 6) Good Week­end; 7) Bang Bang Rock And Roll; 8) Fight; 9) Moving To L. A.; 10) Bad Weekend; 11) Stand Down; 12) 18,000 Lira.

If the lovable Gumbies from Monty Python's Flying Circus decided to get together and play rock'n'roll, they would, most likely, sound like Art Brut — not forgetting that behind the retarded characters of the Gumbies hide the hyper-intellectual personalities of the Pythonites, and that be­hind the carefully staged low-class dumbness of Art Brut hide the personalities of... who are these guys anyway?

Obviously, garage- and punk-rock are still alive and kicking, and will be so until there are no more honestly aggressive, but smart young people left in the world (MTV is working hard on sol­ving that problem, but give it a bit more time to come up with the ultimate solution). But it is not every day that a punk band with a fresh new twist comes along, and this here is definitely a fresh new twist. Instead of joining the usual crowd of deadly serious anti-social rockers who hardly know the difference between a guitar and a Tommy gun, Art Brut play it with the utmost in irony ('it's not irony', lead singer Eddie Argos objects on one of the tracks, only further convincing everyone for miles around that it is).

Whenever people start talking about Art Brut, they cannot help from spurting out tons of lyrical quotes — understandably, because this band is mainly about the lyrics. The music is run-of-the-mill garage noise, a bit more complex than the Ramones and very nicely retro-arranged, but no­thing to write home about (and some of the riffs are just irreverently copped from golden oldies, e. g. the intro to 'Good Weekend' is 'Let's Dance' by the Monkees and suchlike). Lead vocalist Eddie Argos, in age-honed punk fashion, never ever sings, but just speaks or shouts out the words. Alto­gether, they synthesize a good drive, but good drive alone hardly suffices to throw you over the threshold; you have to feed it with great melodies or great attitude.

Well, they do have great attitude. Normally, a single chorus line shouted over and over again is guaranteed to stick in the brain, but the process is painful and even shameful if it is a bland, banal, hyperseriously taken chorus line. However, how can you go wrong with 'Formed a band! We formed a band! Look at us — we formed a band!' Or with 'My! Little! Brother! Just Discovered Rock And Roll! My! Little! Brother! Just Discovered Rock And Roll! There's A Noise In His Head And He's Out Of Control!' (Sung over a clone of the melody of The Clash's 'London Cal­ling', no less). Or with 'Modern Art! Makes Me! Want To Rock Out! Modern Art! Makes Me! Want To Rock Out!' Or with 'I can't stand the sound of the — Velvet Underground!' (Backing vocals go 'white light, white heat!' at the same time).

This is my dutiful share of the album's lyrics, but believe me, there is much more than that. Not coincidentally, Art Brut attracted the admiring attention of Pixies' founder Frank Black, who even went on to produce one of their albums — their groove is wedged in the tradition that covers the ground between the Stooges and the Ramones, but their absurdism and irony far surpasses the basic level of the Ramones and is, indeed, much better aligned with the post-modern excesses of the Pixies. Except that Frank Black you could accuse of being «pretentious», while these guys are completely unassailable from such an angle. At least in the narrow sense of the term: if by «pretentious» we simply mean «claiming to have something important to say», then Art Brut are, by all means, quite pretentious.

But they really do have something important to say. They may seem like they are singing about themselves, yet, in fact, they are singing about everybody else. Irony is their deadly weapon, with which they exterminate their dim-witted competition: bands that do suppose they are the shit just because they'd mustered the intelligence to get together ('Formed A Band'), street gangs whose norm and ideal of significant communicative expression is a good punch in the nose ('Fight'), braindead sex-obsessed teens ('Good Weekend', which includes what is arguably the band's most oft quoted line — 'I've seen her naked TWICE!'), and what is likely Art Brut's primary target — the hipster crowd, which they hate with my own kind of passion ('Modern Art'; 'Moving To LA', about 'drinking Hennessy with Morrissey' etc.).

Certainly this is not a «masterpiece»: it is way too dependent on its inspirations and way too limi­ted in its goals to advance the band to some sort of top rank. But its limited goals are masterfully achieved, and its thirty minutes, particularly if you are paying close attention to whatever Eddie has got to say to you, fly by almost unnoticed. Many people have a soft spot for headbanging al­bums that make fun of headbangers — this is possibly the best representative of the genre in the «noughties», and it happens to perfectly fit in with my conception of good humor, which automa­tically guarantees an intellectual-and-emotional thumbs up.

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